On "Tempting Faith": Seductive Distractions From Fact ?
Bruce Wilson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri Oct 13, 2006 at 03:00:50 PM EST
[ed: click on image for video of Keith Olberman reviewing “Tempting Faith”]On March 25, 2005 in a New York Times op ed, Maureen Dowd  wrote "Oh my God, we really are in a theocracy", and liberals turned in dread towards the mysterious "religious right"  that apparently came from nowhere to dominate the US federal government. Time passed.... Now, David Kuo's widely touted new book, "Tempting Faith", as described in Keith Olberman's ongoing series, seems to assure us that it was all a dream, that Republicans are not of the religious right and hold evangelicals in contempt , milking them like cattle for votes ( according to Kuo, evangelicals got little more in return from George W. Bush than hugs, conference calls, the National Day Of Prayer, and  "cufflinks, pens, and pads of paper" ). Tom Frank, in "What's The matter With Kansas", used a very similar argument. It's been previously tested and found eminently marketable: Kuo's no fool. But, is the perception accurate ? Some hope that the current scandal-fest will make evangelicals dispirited and they'll stop voting - and so the GOP will be hounded from office and the religious right will dissolve under the dashed water of Foley's smutty emails like the witch in "The Wizard Of Oz" : "I'm melting ! I'm melting !"

Meanwhile,the Boston Globe has just concluded a four part investigative series  exposing how the Bush Administration has rechanneled massive amounts of US foreign aid to religious groups:

President Bush has almost doubled the percentage of US foreign-aid dollars going to faith-based groups such as Food for the Hungry, according to a Globe survey of government data. And in seeking to help such groups obtain more contracts, Bush has systematically eliminated or weakened rules designed to enforce the separation of church and state. ....many of those restrictions were removed by Bush in a little-noticed series of executive orders -- a policy change that cleared the way for religious groups to obtain hundreds of millions of dollars in additional government funding.
"Tempting Faith", by the former second in command for the Bush Administration's Office Of Faith Based Initiatives David Kuo, has been announced and, as reviewed by Keith Olberman, appears to feature two related claims. We will soon know - as Kuo's book hits the shelves - whether Keith Olberman's coverage presents a more or less faithful depiction of "Tempting Faith" or not. So - with that caveat, let me address "Tempting Faith" as rendered by Olberman.... Reinforcing a charge recently made by other voices on the right, Kuo seems to declare that the GOP holds evangelical Christians in utter contempt, and opponents of the Bush Administration and the GOP are, unsurprisingly, ecstatic about the timing which, depending on one's party affiliation, could hardly be better or worse. But all the glee (or glumness), over the book's possible impact in suppressing Christian right voter turnout on November 7th, appears to have distracted commentators from a second claim Kuo would appear to make. The claim, not a new one,  goes like this : Christian evangelicals are held in contempt by Republicans - who sucker them with promises but never actually deliver.

Kuo's book - if Olberman's depiction holds - could be seen as employing a classic CIA ploy called "limited hang out" by which lesser truths are revealed, or sacrificed, to cover or distract from more significant underlying realities. In all the jubilant fanfare over his damning parade of  the contempt and derision heaped by members of the Bush Administration on evangelicals, could David Kuo be intentionally reinforcing a preexisting misconception ( or perhaps he holds it himself although I find that hard to believe), that the GOP and the Christian right are distinct when, in reality, Christian right insurgents began taking over state-level GOP party machinery - starting in Texas -  over a decade and a half ago ? Perhaps. But, reinforcement of that misconception would be the least of the work that "Tempting Faith" appears ( so far ) to do. Far more significantly, it seems to reinforce a belief, especially held on the left but not actually founded in analysis and fact but often trotted out as a catchy talking point, that the Christian right never gets anything!

Does the Christian right never get anything in return for its political support ?

Beyond the issue of foreign aid covered by the Globe, tell that to gay couples in Ohio who worry about medical visitation rights, or to poor women in Texas who just lost access to cheap pap smear tests and other reproductive rights services because money that went to Planned  Parenthood clinics is being shifted to "Crisis Pregnancy" centers that do not provide those services.

Tell it to women in South Dakota who do not have the fortune to be "teenage religious virgins who get sodomized and raped and get pregnant" but just get raped and become pregnant and then can't get abortions in the state...  Tell it to people in the developing world who suddenly find a little extra "baggage" - in the form of religious proselytizing - attached to US that prevents their starvation : want food - get God ?

Try telling that to the Christian organizations that can legally practice religious discrimination in their hiring practices and which have received billions of dollars in "Faith Based" funding since George W. Bush came into office. Or, tell it to teens in Texas suffering from STD's in the STD boom that has followed the legal imposition "Abstinence Only" education in the state.....

I could go on. But, is it really necessary ? Oh yes - I should mention the billions of extra dollars the Bush Administration says it disbursed through the Faith Based program. Doesn't David Kuo mention that during his time as #2 at the White House Office Of Faith Based Initiatives that his office only got 80 million dollars ? Well yes, and that's accurate.... but it's also highly misleading because there are now ten different "faith based" offices attached to different federal funding programs and those distributed about 2.2 billion dollars last year in grants to faith based orgs - and that doesn't include block grants made to states. Well, what about Kuo's claim that the Bush Administration only provided a pittance of the promised 8 billion dollars in new money ? - That is, again, correct but very misleading : The "faith based" initiative isn't distributing new money - it's actually shifting existing federal spending on social programs onto religious groups, and the likely intended goal is to eventually eliminate all "secular" funding for social programs so that it all comes through churches and "faith based" organizations. Fun, huh ? David Kuo - under the tutelage of Marvin Olasky - was one of the thinkers cooking up these sorts of schemes, and Kuo's anger about Bush's reneged on promises is likely real, and Kuo may very well deeply care about poverty in America..... but on his own terms. David Kuo helped draft the Gingrich revolution's "Contract With The American Family", and at that point he was apparently comfortable with the elimination of large swaths of current federal agencies to contribute to that document. Meanwhile, sustained analyses such as the Boston Globe's show that the Bush Administration, at least in the realm of foreign aid, has made a concerted effort to reroute real federal dollars from secular aid groups and towards Christian charity organizations. What's a few hundred million or a few billion dollars per year ? Well, to start with that sort of moeny can buy an awful lot of cufflinks, pens, and pads of paper.

Additionally, it should be noted that many of these new flows of federal aid to religious groups will not be easily stemmed or reversed - efforts to do so will extract political cost amid howls - from Christian right groups - of "persecution". Some of the gains of the religious right under George W. Bush will very likely - even if Republicans are hounded from the White House in 2008 - survive until the next GOP tide sweeps in to push the watermark yet a bit higher. So it goes.

Incremental processes, cultural shifts in this case, are hard to notice. To view Christian right voters as simpletons who get nothing in return for their votes ignores considerable disturbing evidence to the contrary and is in the end similar to  denial of Global Warming. In both cases a typical human perceptual shortcoming, an inability to notice, acknowledge, or respond to processes of gradual change - and a retreat, into denial, from occasional moments of awareness of the predicament, leads us to the fate of the boiled frog.

Rumor has it that a frog placed in a pot of water over a heat source and will not think to hop out as the temperature of water in the pot rises but will simply boil to death. That may be an urban legend but as an analogy it accurately depicts the position of the secular Americans and the left as the Christian right applies steady pressure to move American culture and politics towards a  Christian nationalist or reconstructionist vision.

Lately, the current sagging political fortune of the Christian right movement  tempts many toward a faith that is blind to underlying facts and to the structural elements and processes of the Christian right that work to gradually change American and even world culture and which are still for the most part only feebly resisted. The Christian right - in the wake of televangelist scandals - was pronounced "dead" in the late 1980's. A few years later Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition had provided the muscle for a GOP takeover of Congress and thus a platform from which to harass and tie down the Clinton Adminstration. The Christian right has washed in, over the past two and a half decades, in successive political waves - each leaving a somewhat higher watermark, each shifting federal and state policy, political ideas and assumptions, and legislation and spending patterns, towards a rough vision held by leaders of the Christian and religious right coalition. Call it "Reconstructionist", "Dominionist", or "Christian Nationalist" - but, the direction has been clear enough and progress steady enough for alarm. Except that it's incremental progress and so would be opponents simply become habituated rather than alarmed.  

The title of "Tempting Faith" seems oddly appropriate though, because, faith is by definition not empirical, and so it is dangerous to rely on when empiricism is called for. To some extent over the past three decades political fortunes of Democrats and Republicans have waxed and waned, but the alleged return to an eternal political set point is - like the geocentric universe - a mythic or discredited model of reality because, in fact., the America political midpoint has - amidst oscillations - moved inexorably right. The American left would like to latch on to a "tempting faith" that somehow the ideological extremity of the Bush Administration, and its apparent close ties to the Christian right, was a fluke and that the Christian right is ephemeral and will waft away in the current scandals.... rather than acknowledge that the movement is sophisticated and diversified with its own culture, media, institutions, and economy. That surely, for many, is indeed a tempting faith. But, it's not real.

won't want to keep up apearances and tell the cult...er,... a, their followers that Kuo can't be trusted?

Olberman's second report on this is posted at C&L now. Find it here.

You know, there was some early exposure as to how the Republicans were using the Faith Based Vote Buying Scheme under the Bush administration. In 2001 the Republics worked with Sun Myung Moon and his organization to promote the scheme among mostly African American churches. They worked with Moon to skim black votes by pushing the potential of the cash that could be made by supporting the scheme. This also allowed Moon to promote himself as the Messiah and get his claws into more churches with some credibility from the WH. It was called the "WE Will Stand" tour but I call it the "Gold Watch Tour" because Moon handed out - even had drawings for - gold watches along the 50 stops. Also along the tour Moon's operatives pushed the scheme...people like longtime Moon operative David Caprara - who later served as a director of VISTA/Americorp in the Bush administration.

But the big thing about the tour that was not considered newsworthy is that the Republican Party worked with Moon - MOON - the one who claims he is the Messiah here on earth to mesh the world's religions and to usher in a world theocracy - the republicans and conservatives worked with Moon and his organization to tear down the wall between church and state. That's what was going on, they were working with Moon to tear down the wall between church and state.

Think about that.


You can read it here in what folks call a "must read" article.

by Lou on Fri Oct 13, 2006 at 05:00:44 PM EST

I wonder if Dobson and Co. won't want to keep up apearances and tell the cult...er,... a, their followers that Kuo can't be trusted?

Conservatives Rally Against Bush Aide-Turned-Critic
Exposé of White House Scorn for Evangelicals Is Disputed

Conservative religious leaders described themselves as shocked yesterday by a new book's charge that Bush administration staffers privately dismissed evangelical Christian political activists as "nuts" and "goofy."

But their dismay was aimed at the book's author, former White House official David Kuo, rather than at President Bush or his senior advisers.

James Dobson, Charles W. Colson and other stalwarts of the conservative Christian movement defended the Bush administration and questioned the timing of the book's publication, a month before the midterm elections. Some suggested that Kuo had betrayed the White House.

"I feel sorry for him, because once you do something like this, you get your 15 minutes in the spotlight, but then after that nobody will touch you," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a Christian advocacy group in Washington. "These kiss-and-tell books do more damage to the author than to the people they attack."


also, meant to say - excellent post Bruce, thanks.

by Lou on Sun Oct 15, 2006 at 09:56:34 PM EST

My thoughts on Kuo and his book are still evolving - this is far from a simple story.

I'm probably off base, but something in this doesn't quite smell right. I can't find any factual inaccuracies in what Kuo says but it's what he omits that troubles me :

First of all, Kuo was more central to the ideology of "compassionate conservatism" than he lets on, and he worked closely under both John Ashcroft and Ralph Reed. Kuo also helped draft the Christian Coalition plank that called for the total elimination of federal social program spending and played a part in helping organize the '94 Gingrich revolution takeover of Congress. Indeed, Kuo also worked for a while, at least, as a speechwriter for Gov. GW Bush. He spent a year at the CIA as well. Kuo additionally co-wrote books for several prominent conservatives including Reed.

Kuo, it seems to me,  implies that the Faith Based Initiative is tiny. It's not. Kuo's piece of it was, and although Kuo is correct that Bush only procured a small amount of new money for the program, the program also made a rather large pot of existing federal grant money available to applications from "faith based" orgs. - over 100 billion by some accounts, and the ten or so branch FBO offices don't seem to keep very close track on the money they disburse, the exact amount that goes to religious groups or how well those groups use the funding. There's no evaluation of performance. Last year's reported disbursement was about 2.2 billion, and more $ goes out to states in block grants.

Performance is really not the point though - the real point is to begin the transfer of federal social program expenditure to religious groups.

My suspicion is that Kuo didn't say anything about that because he approves.

by Bruce Wilson on Mon Oct 16, 2006 at 02:18:39 AM EST

This kind of analysis is why I read talk2action everyday!

"I believe in a President whose views on religion are his own private affair" - JFK, Address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association
by hardindr on Fri Oct 13, 2006 at 10:21:52 PM EST

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